How to build an arena in Edmonton

A curiosity: Michael Ignatieff, a novelist, never felt the need to tell Canadians his story. Why did he leave his fabulous life at Harvard behind to endure life as an opposition MP, to run for the leadership of the Liberal Party and ultimately for Prime Minister? Why did he want to lead us? How had his past led us to his present — and what did this have to do with us?

He didn’t tell his story so the Conservative Party of Canada told it for him, in six words: He didn’t come back for you.

Daryl Katz is in a similar spot. Why did he buy the Oilers? Why does he want our help? He never really told his story, and he admits it isn’t one of his talents.

“Public communications is not in my nature,” he wrote, in an open letter to Edmontonians. “Chalk that up as a personal shortcoming.”

Mr. Katz didn’t tell his story so his opponents filled the void.

He isn’t doing this for power, like Mr. Ignatieff. The story we tell about Mr. Katz is that he is doing it for money — just money. Power for the sake of power and money for the sake of money are crass and indefensible, in our culture. Unless you can build power and money into your story. Then we fall in love with you.

How do you build an arena, in Edmonton?

The iconic businesses, institutions, festivals, teams, initiatives, and community projects grew from the bottom-up. If you want Edmontonians to participate in an arena you tell them why and you tell them how.

Then you invite them to be part of it.

Some people were and are furious about this project, and always will be, but they would have been overwhelmed by an army of enthusiastic Edmontonians who felt they were part of the process: public involvement, and not in the “we’re telling you what we’re doing” sense of public involvement. Even an architectural competition would have made a difference.

If you want Edmontonians’ help, you have to tell them why. Why you? Why the Oilers? Why Edmonton? Why downtown? Sincerity is hard, but no successful business person is without charm. Mr. Katz was just a dreamy young Oilers fan once, an entrepreneur on the make, and there isn’t a human being on this planet who doesn’t like to tell a good story. We should be proud of Daryl Katz, an Edmonton success story, not distrustful. The Katz Group has been negotiating with shadows instead of scheming with its partners: you.

It works that way in some cities but it doesn’t work that way in Edmonton.

The current arena deal is failing for the same reason Indy failed, for the same reason Capital EX failed: it’s being downloaded on a city with a bottom-up culture.

All the original logic for The Katz Group’s involvement in the arena has faded. We’re now at the point where a different sort of investment begins to make emotional if not financial sense. If there is going to be a downtown arena, Edmontonians will build it.


6 thoughts on “How to build an arena in Edmonton

  1. Pingback: How to build an arena in Edmonton « Stuart Riesen

  2. We should be proud of Daryl Katz, an Edmonton success story, not distrustful. The Katz Group has been negotiating with shadows instead of scheming with its partners: you.

    Katz and Katz group has been engaging in a behavior that economists call ‘rent seeking’. That sort of behavior tends to work in cities like Edmonton. Try charging him ‘rent’ instead, and you’ll see how fast he flies his business to Seattle. If there’s no ‘rent’ for him to make, might as well be in a city close to the ocean, with milder winters, and closer to his children’s university (UBC)

  3. Pingback: Edmonton Notes for 10/21/2012 - MasterMaq's Blog

  4. Pingback: Political rebrands, senior care and the arena | Edmonton Blog Watch | The Unknown Studio

  5. Pingback: Edmonton and the English Language « magpietown

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